Foodie Events / Restaurants

Houston’s Epic Barbecue Street Festival Brings All-Star Chefs to Town: Everything You Need to Know About Southern Smoke

BY // 09.02.18

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And you could say the culinary virtuosos headlining this year’s Southern Smoke barbecue fest are on fire. Top chefs from across the country are hightailing it to Houston for the festival on September 30.

Think all things smoked meat, with some surprises that are downright lit. This year’s Southern Smoke runs from 4 pm to 8 pm that Sunday at the lots of 1018 Westheimer, 1100 Westheimer and 1415 California. Tickets cost $200 (VIP ducats are $350 each).

In three years, Southern Smoke has raised more than $1 million.

“You’ve got the best of the barbecue business in the country,” Southern Smoke founder and Houston-championing chef Chris Shepherd says. “Then you’ve got all the other chefs coming in who don’t do barbecue hanging out.

“You’re out by the grill with your family and friends, that’s where you want to be. Raise a lot of money for our city and for a great cause.

Chef Seth Siegel-Gardner of HOUBBQ Collective is equally enthused.

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“You get to eat food from chefs from all over in one spot,” he says. “Some of the best chefs that represent their cities and their restaurants. Go on a little vacation of your own for the afternoon, get to try a bunch of foods, get to drink a lot of good beer and wine.”

Shepherd’s pumped Southern Smoke’s 2018 lineup and the chefs debuting.

“The lineup is super, super strong,” he says. “This year we’ve got Sam Jones in town doing the iconic whole hog. Daniela Soto-Innes from Cosme, the 25th best restaurant in the world this year. She helped me open Underbelly. She’s one of my kids.

“Billy Durney from Brooklyn just crushing the Texas barbecue scene in Brooklyn. We’ve got a dude making pizza — Chris Bianco arguably has the best pizza known in the United States. Vivian Howard, one of the most amazing Southern chefs there are. Edouardo Jordan, can’t say enough about him. He’s the winner of two Beard awards this year.”

And then, there’s the longtime Shepherd friends returning to the parade of pork, beef, chicken and beyond.

“Ryan Prewitt, he’s like a brother to me, runs a seafood joint,” Shepherd says. That would be the star chef of New Orleans’ Peche Seafood Grill. Pitmaster Aaron Franklin of Austin’s legendary Franklin Barbecue, will also come back for more.

For Love and Barbecue

There’s just something about barbecue that draws people in, whether you’re talking dedicated chefs or eager novice foodies.

“It’s a communal thing. It’s always been synonymous with a happy time or celebratory time,” Jones says.

“Barbecue is inherently community-based. It’s always been about bringing people together in large numbers to share these epic meals. And barbecue today, even in restaurants, continues to promote those same ideals,” Prewitt says.

Prewitt will probably be prepping grilled oysters again, what he calls a good counterpoint to brisket and ribs. You can expect a ton of variety in those categories.

“People will get a chance to really taste the diversity of cooking styles and see how everybody interprets live fire cooking and barbecue cooking,” he says.

southern smoke sam jones
Sam Jones is a whole hog maestro.

For Jones, that means traditional Carolina whole hog. “I believe my dad put pig grease in my bottle to make sure that I had it coursing in my veins,” Jones laughs.

This pitmaster sees barbecue being less and less of a regional phenomenon.

“What you define as barbecue or not barbecue depends on what type of dirt you grew up on,” Jones says. “I think that all those old-school barbecue lines have become blurred.”

That delineation may be blurry, but the impact of Southern Smoke is what you’d call clear-cut.

“I believe you should do good wherever you can,” Jones says. “These people identified a good cause. They picked up the ball and they ran with it. To see the numbers they’ve done so far historically is pretty staggering.”

Last year, Shepherd’s festive fundraiser brought in a whopping $500,000 for Hurricane Harvey relief, 139 people who were affected by the storm. $10,000 was also donated to Legacy Community Health, who helped Southern Smoke distribute the money.

Shepherd launched Southern Smoke to benefit MS three years ago after his friend, sommelier Antonio Gianola, was diagnosed with the disease. The twosome worked together at Catalan and put on a series of dinners together after parting professional ways.

“After one series was over, he came to me five months later and said ‘Hey, are you doing those dinners again?’ I said I had no idea. He said ‘If you do, can you do one to raise money for MS?’ ” Shepherd says. The chef was happy to, but he didn’t get the connection.

“He said he got diagnosed with MS that week. We sat there and talked about it. I said we’re not doing a dinner, we’re going to throw a party. It escalated from there.”

Shepherd envisioned a street festival, backyard-barbecue type of thing.

That first year, Southern Smoke pulled in $180,000, surpassing the initial goal of $100,000 by a considerable amount. Donations from this year will go to the MS Society and the Southern Smoke Emergency Relief Fund.

“This year, the goal is to hit $300,000. The goal is also to raise a whole lot more than that, and actually becoming an entity, a 501(c) operating one. We want to offer assistance to people in the industry who need emergency assistance,” Shepherd says.

“So we can help pay. You just need to talk somebody when times get tough, when times get hard. We can help find that for you.”

Southern Smoke is a veritable chefs’ playground, some of the most innovative food artists getting together to pal around and make some meat magic.

The attendees get to eat food from famed, talented chefs from across the country they might never get to try out otherwise. And in turn, those famed, talented chefs — a tight-knit group of culinary whizzes who don’t get to see each other all that often — get to try Houston on for size.

“It’s our opportunity to shine as Houstonians. It works both ways,” Shepherd says.

“For our guests to be able to meet them — for them, it’s ‘I’ve always read about Bianco, I’ve read so much about Eduoardo Jordan.’ And they get that interaction, those minutes with them. That’s pretty special,” he says.

It’s not just the barbecue that draws people in. The Houston food scene is phenomenal, and it’ll be represented at Southern Smoke — beyond barbecue.

“You got to watch Hugo make a giant paella that feeds like 500 people at a time,” Siegel-Gardner says. “You’re not really going to do that when you go over to Caracol. Last year, chef Manabu Horiuchi from Kata Robata was handing out siu mai.

“If you don’t like barbecue, you will still leave happy.”

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